From: Bondeni, Mathare, Nairobi
Interview date & place: 27 April 2016, Nairobi
Interviewed by: Kate Lines
Original language: English
Who is Kate?
I'm Kate Wanjiru. I'm from Mathare Bondeni. Kate is a young mother, and a youth documenter, and I'm also one of the cohorts in Mathare of NYS. And I'm a Muungano member, and I'm a saver – saver number 14. To wake up and to see my kids, that's the best thing that drives me to wake up in the morning.
How did you first get involved in Muungano?
I joined Muungano in the year 2007, with the help of Joseph Muturi and Joseph Kimani. They came to our settlement to mobilize the community and to teach the community about savings. They took us to a market in Kibera and we were shown – we visited a group that was saving. After that exchange, we came back to our community and we taught the others about savings. That's how we started our group.
What were things like, back when you joined Muungano?
Before we joined Muungano, we did not know anything about savings. We used to use all the money we had; if we had even an emergency, you could not get even anything, any cash, because we were not saving. In a business, many people do not know you can put ten shillings aside, then you can use it for tomorrow in emergencies.
When we started Muungano, I was one of the collectors: I used to go round the community, collecting ten shillings from each neighbourhood.
Where we lived back then, it was not even safe; but when we joined Muungano, we even went and taught the youths about Muungano, so they were not idle, because we gave them a job. We have a toilet that Muungano owns – we've employed three youths. We also have a water kiosk that we got through the help of Pamoja Trust, because they taught us how we could fight for our rights. Because by then, Mathare we had a lot of shortage of water. I remember, one day we blocked even the road; we went to town and we striked; and by a week later, the Nairobi Water came in and provided water for the community. That's how Muungano helped the community, because it was through Muungano that we got all the water kiosks that are in Mathare.
At first, even the community when we first joined Muungano, they thought Muungano was trying to grab land. Because, in Huruma Kambi Moto they helped them to build houses; but in Mathare there's a lot of land grabbing, and there's a group called Bondeni Properties owns all of Mathare – when they see an NGO coming to Mathare, they think these guys want to take away the land. That's all they thought when they first met Pamoja Trust. The Bondeni Properties and Pamoja Trust had a talk, and they told them what they came to do to the community. By the end of that talk, even some of the Bondeni Properties joined Muungano, because they saw that it was bringing a lot of change in the community.
There are ten members of Bondeni Properties: they own the whole of Mathare [slum]. They are the ones who sell the land – they grab lands. Even where we built our toilets, we had to ask from them so that we can build the toilets; but we were also helped by the city council. And in Muungano, we have even village elders that joined Muungano – but at first they did not want to join Muungano; and some youth that wanted to take away our project, the toilet, but now they're in Muungano.
Bondeni savings group is the longest-standing savings scheme in Mathare
We have 40 members – 50 members, but active are 40. We went to Nakuru for an exchange: we were taught about merry-go-round and table banking, where everyone comes with your savings and we put all the savings on the table, then we give loans to the members. And through that, some members have been able to open their own kiosks, and they now own their own businesses.
Three-quarters of the members are in the Katani greenfield [project]. In 2007, we were told about a land that was to be bought for the people of Muungano that was in Mukuru, but when we went to Mukuru there was a lot of [confusion] because of that land. There was a lot of conflict over that land, because some claimed it was their land and some said it belonged to the government. When we went there we were so confused about the status of that land. We went back to Muungano and told them that we cannot buy that land, because of that conflict.
Then we were told about Katani. A lot of our members had savings, and we did not know what to do with the savings; we were just saving, saving, saving, with the ten shillings, and everyone was like, ‘what will you do with this cash?’ Then some people from Muungano came to tell us about Katani: we all went to see the land in Katani, and we are now, even we have three beneficiaries from our own group that are now staying in Katani. And I'm also a member – I'll be in the phase two, I will own a house very soon in Katani, just through my savings. In 2007, I was in college when I joined Muungano, and my first savings, my mum used to save for me, because I was one of the collectors. I was just going round, and I could even get a good member from Muungano telling me, ‘you are doing this work for free, let me save for you today’ – that's how I got all the cash to go to Katani.
How have things changed over time?
Now, we have ten kiosks in Mathare – water kiosks. We have toilets, we do clean-ups, we help the community to know more about savings, we give loans with a low interest, and we teach the youth more about how to do things that will help them – not stealing. Because in Mathare, we hear gunshots daily – a youth is killed. But when we bring these [youths] into Muungano, we teach them and we provide some work to do.
What have been Muungano’s biggest achievements over the years?
From 2007 to now in 2015, is the first time that I got a chance to come here to Muungano House. I've never been here for all those years, just because they were not involving the youth. We have a network in Mathare, where every side from Muungano – we have 13 settlements – and each settlement we all come together in one settlement, and we talk about our issues and what we can do to help Muungano. By that time, in our network, they only used to choose old people – they do not chose the youth, just because they say that they are the ones who fought for Muungano – but in 2015, I got a call from one of our members, Nancy, and she told me that Muungano wanted a youth who would do documentation and data entry. And that is the biggest achievement that I feel that Muungano has done: to involve the youth.
From Muungano, I've gotten a chance to do documentation. When I came to Muungano, I did not know how to write minutes, and I used to be one of the secretaries in our group – I just wrote something; nowadays I say, oh my god, I did not know anything that I was writing! But now, I can write good minutes; I can do a report; I can even take a good photo; and my biggest achievement, I've gone to an international exchange, in South Africa and I've even gone to Uganda, just through Muungano. That's my biggest achievement. It was my first time, to go to South Africa, and I was very happy to represent the youths. We went to learn more about reblocking, but I also got a chance to learn about documentation.
Let me talk about our own Muungano [in Bondeni]: we got a loan from AMT and that loan has really helped us. We've now gone o Gakoya Real Estate, and we are going to buy another land very soon, with the help of that cash. We have even started saving, we've even gotten some small loans with a long term – repay long term – because in our [savings] group, we only [re]pay for three months; but from the AMT it's one year. We can be able to [re]pay, and still save in our group.
What have been the challenges over the years?
The biggest challenges was in 2007, during elections. In our group we had many tribes; it came a time that our group was to end because it had tribalism. We had a chairman who was a Luo, and he would favour Luos, just because of tribalism. And it was about to end, that we ended up calling one of the ones who helped us to join Muungano, Joseph Kimani. He came to our group and he helped us to build friendship among us. We were taught on how to not listen to the leaders. Because we found that some people were on the other side, of the government, and the other one the opposition – it came that in our own Muungano some were even like that, some were on the government [side], some were on the opposition. And when Kimani came, he taught us about coming together, and we were not even listening to all the leaders were saying now – we came together, and we started another good Muungano, with no tribalism.
And other challenges that were in Muungano, the one that I said: only old people were coming here [to the national office]. We were not chosen, because we were the youth. They used to say that they were the founders; but I was also the founder, but they kept me away.
What have been the strategies that really worked?
In 2012, some youths wanted to grab our toilet – they said that it belonged to the community. We had quarrels, that we even went to chief. The chief was supporting the youth, so that they could grab our toilet; we had to go to Pangani police station because they were even threatening women. They even beat one of our members who was working the toilet, they stole our money, they destroyed some things from the toilet, they used to throw stones inside the toilet to block it. We have a hot shower: they came and they destroyed everything, so that we could leave the toilets to them. But with the help of an OCS [officer] in Pangani – we told him how we had started savings and how we got the help of rebuilding the toilet – he came to our aid. We went back to the community, he spoke to the youth, and even some of the youth joined Muungano. Because at first, they did not know anything about Muungano; then we went and spoke to them, we told them you can do this, you can even work for us. Now we've employed three of them, and they are working very well.
What didn’t work? What did you learn?
We had a plan of doing clean ups every Saturday, and we had talked to city council to come and collect the garbage. We used to use paper bags, these big paper bags, for garbage collection; we could collect garbage every Saturday and put it at the roadside, and the city council would come and take it. It came a time that city council was not taking the garbage. Then the community started quarrelling, saying that we're leaving the garbage there, it's blocking the road, the kids are there playing. So it came a time that nobody was even collecting the garbage; we stopped doing the clean ups. There came a time that one of our members was arrested by the city council for throwing garbage along the roadside. And when we went to her aid, we told them, ‘you told us that we could take all the garbage from our community down and bring them at the roadside’. Then they told us there are no more lorries to take the garbage, that we could do it ourselves if we search for our own rollie [truck] and we take the garbage to Mukuru. And it was so hard for us – we stopped doing all these clean ups, and the clean ups were really helping the community.
What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?
One thing that I've always wanted for Muungano, is that they should open a Muungano radio, where every community brings all their views – if there is a riot, there's a forced eviction – and then they can even teach people about savings and giving loans, through the radio.
And the most of all, that I want in Muungano in the next 20 years: I want the youth to be more involved. I want them to be in everything that Muungano is doing. Because these old guys are going. We want to be the next Muungano.
A message for the younger generations of Muungano
The message that I want to give the young youth, is to make sure they are in a savings group, so that they can save and they can get something through Muungano. Because as for me, the best thing that I know that I've done: I joined Muungano in 2007. And with the savings that I've got there, I've gotten a chance to be one of the Katani greenfield members – and I'm very happy, as a youth. Many people are like, ‘oh you're very young and you're going to get a house in Katani’, and I'll tell them it's because of my savings – even that ten shillings can bring change in your life.